Wednesday, May 19, 2010

WSOP Flashback: The Lindgren Golf Bet (2007)

By Pauly
Las Vegas

July 2007.

John Caldwell told me about the $340,000 prop bet. One of the things that I loved about Las Vegas was when degenerate gamblers bet outrageous amounts of money on trivial things.

“Erick Lindgren has a single day to shoot four rounds of golf with each round under 100. No carts. He has to carry his bags and shoot from the pro tees,” Caldwell said.

Erick Lindgren’s prop bet was a variation of a Huck Seed bet from many years earlier, when Huck shot under 100 four times in one day (it took him five attempts) using only a five-iron, a sand wedge, and a putter.

The origins of the deviant golf wager began shortly after Lindgren busted out of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. During dinner with friends, he boasted that he could shoot four rounds of golf under 100 strokes while walking the entire course. He had to carry his own bag but got a caddy to help with distances, replacing divots, and green reads. Gavin Smith originally bet $50,000 that Lindgren couldn’t do it before he raised the total to $100,000. Two other friends of Lindgren, poker pros Peter ‘Nordberg’ Feldman and Chris Bell, bet another $40,000 against him. When Phil Ivey heard about the bet, he wanted in on the action. Ivey wagered $200,000 that Lindgren couldn’t do it.

With $340,000 on the table, Lindgren agreed to play four rounds of golf starting the next morning at Best Bear.

Lindgren prepared for his bet by drinking until 4 A.M. After less than ninety minutes of sleep, Lindgren arrived at Best Bear in Summerlin, a golf course designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, which replicated some of his favorite holes from other courses around the world. Best Bear was a work of beauty, nestled in the foothills of the Red Rock mountains and several holes sloped down towards the Strip. It was also one of the toughest courses in Las Vegas with bent grass greens and played almost 7,200 yards from the tips, or the white pro tees, where Lindgren agreed to shoot from. The front nine was not as challenging as the back nine, which climbed into the foothills, but it was still demanding for amateurs.

I arrived at the Rio a couple of hours after Lindgren teed off and the media room buzzed about the prop bet. Nobody had faith in Lindgren. Snake from Wicked Chops Poker bet me $20 that Lindgren would fail, and by the time I left the media room, I booked a couple hundred more in bets. A friend of mine from Wall Street thought that Lindgren would never come close and offered to bet me $2,000. I didn’t shy away and when I tallied all my wagers, I had almost $2,700 riding on Lindgren, or the most I had wagered on a single event since March Madness.

Lindgren’s athletic prowess convinced me that he had the physical stamina to walk the entire course… four times. The son of a tire shop owner, Lindgren grew up in a small town in Northern California. He excelled at sports from an early age and starred in baseball, football, and basketball. During high school, he won an MVP in basketball and was all-league in football. He enrolled in college and found a job in at a local Indian casino as a dealer. Lindgren claimed that he held only one regular day job in his life and that was dealing blackjack. During his off hours, Lindgren gravitated towards poker and spent more time at the low-limit poker tables than hitting the books. He eventually dropped out of college and moved to Las Vegas. He won his first tournament at the Bellagio in 2002 and never looked back. In January of 2007, I watched him win $1 million (Australian Dollars) at the $100,000 AUD buy-in High Rollers event at the Aussie Millions in Melbourne.

The thirty-year old Lindgren was the golden boy of poker. Just think about the coolest guy in high school or college. That was Lindgren. He was good looking, intelligent, funny, and one hell of a poker player. Every guy wanted to be Erick Lindgren and every woman wanted to fuck him, which was another reason why every guy wanted to be him.

I headed to work and I couldn’t stop thinking about the bet. Every few minutes I asked Caldwell for updates or sent text messages to Chops, who also owned Raw Vegas TV and sent a camera crew to film the action.

Lindgren teed off at 5:45 A.M. During the morning and afternoon, a small crowd gathered and watched Lindgren’s display of utter foolishness. His buddies Gavin Smith and Chris Bell followed behind, and even Ivey stopped by to check on Lindgren’s progress. The first two rounds were a breeze. Lindgren shot an 86, then an 84. He struggled with the third round and shot a 92.

“We knew he could do the first two easy,” said Gavin. “In the third round, it really looked like he might not make it. But he ended up making a big par and got there.”

In the middle of the third round, a big problem arose. What happened if he shot 100 exactly? Ivey and Lindgren decided to flip a coin to decide the outcome should they have that issue, and their $340,000 bet would be settled by Heads or Tails.

By the end of the third round, Lindgren’s friends thought that he was on the brink of cracking. He endured temperatures that peaked out at 106 degrees and showed obvious signs of fatigue, dehydration, and sunstroke. After 54 straight holes of golf, he lost almost ten pounds.

“I don’t have a will, but if I die today, I’ll leave everything to Gavin Smith,” joked Lindgren.

“And in the fourth round, he looked dead,” said Gavin. “I was sure he wasn’t going to do it. Then he dug deep and found something that nobody knew he had.”

Lindgren finished off the front nine with a 49. He had to shoot the back nine in under 50 to seal the bet. That was the toughest part of the course and he struggled on the back nine during the first three rounds. However, Lindgren caught a much-needed break. The swirling winds died down and the temperatures dropped below 100. With Mother Nature cooperating, it came down to one thing… heart.

Did Lindgren have enough heart to finish out strong?

“I was in so much pain,” Lindgren said. “I had to make sure there was a medic on the scene. I thought I was going to pass out on the back nine.”

By the 13th hole, when it was evident that Lindgren was going to pull through, Gavin Smith arranged a buyout. Instead of being on the hook for $100,000, Lindgren accepted $60,000 from Gavin. Chris Bell offered a buy out as well, but Ivey made Lindgren play on. Lindgren rallied and around 8 P.M., he finished out the final round with a total score of 96.

“He deserved to win,” Gavin said. “He focused on what he knew he had to do. There were cameras and lots of people there and he did it.”

“Erick is an athlete and a gritty determined fellow. It didn’t surprise me at all,” Caldwell said.

“What I witnessed was the most amazing thing I have ever seen of its kind,” said super agent Brian Balsbaugh, who previously represented pro golfers on the PGA. “I didn’t think he was going to make it. At one point I saw him lying on the ground. He told me that he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t speak, and he couldn’t see straight with seven holes to go.”

“We just watched Erick Lindgren do something I didn’t think he had a chance in the world to do,” added Chris Bell. “A lot of poker players might think they can do it, and I’ll take the bet against those guys too.”

“Me? I would totally do that bet,” Daniel Negreanu said. “Sounds like sick fun. I know you could potentially die from the heat.”

I quickly collected all of my winnings from the donkeys in the media room. They were astonished that Lindgren did the impossible. Of course, winning the bet did not come at a cheap price. Lindgren’s body took a beating. He lost over seventeen pounds and suffered serious sunstroke. Although he returned to the Rio to play poker the next day, he looked awful.

“I could have slept for 20 hours today,” said Lindgren in an interview with Raw Vegas the day after his epic feat. “I will try to sleep tomorrow. I’m hurting but I won the bet and that’s all that matters. I have some pretty heavy regrets. Combine the incredible stress and pressure of a big bet, with the physical nature of it from walking the course from the pro tees in those elements with 106 degree temperatures and 25 mph winds. It was unbelievable. I played 14 hours of golf with a bag on my back and walked over twenty miles. I was able to win the bet, and I regret it. I was really hurting. This may have taken a year or two off my life. I’ll never know. My body is aching. My head is fuzzy. It’s going to take a while until I’m healthy.”

Erick Lindgren didn't die, and I won $2,700.

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